Sunday, February 24, 2008

Little Red X

Second Life, above all else, is a place I come to in order to escape real life and relax at the end of the day. If I cannot have fun in Second Life, then what is the point in logging in, anyway?

Sometimes my idea of fun contrasts with others. Case in point: I enjoy flying, driving, and boating across the grid even though I frequently hit and crash into sim seams, ban lines, and full parcels. To me, that's all part of the fun and excitement, wondering if the next seam will boot me out, or if that parcel is closed off. Rocketing across at 140 knots and trying to predict (or if it's your neighborhood, avoid) where the bad spots are really helps me calm down, it provides an outlet when I can't afford to go to the movies or out in general and television is boring and I get tired of reading websites.

I like to build things I want to build. Rarely does the thought "Can I make loads of money off of this" enter into the equation. I want a lighthouse, and by Nunchuck I will build one. Sometimes I give it away for free. Someone walks by, says to I "Hey, that's pretty cool" and I give'em a freebie. If I do sell something, it's usually because I'm strapped for cash or I sincerely believe the time and effort invested deserves compensation. The saxophone I built took me a month. It was a hoot to build, script, and create an animation (shoddy though it was) but with that kind of time investment, if you wanted one then you had to give me something in return. Unless you helped fund or build it, in which case I DID give it away for free (which rarely did they accept, I usually got paid anyway).

And nothing beats teasing people. The look and silence from a certain someone when you tell them you orbited seven people in their newbie community is priceless. Invert all the furniture so it's on the ceiling. Shoot prim babies into their house. Ah, good times. Nothing too serious, just enough to stir the pot and break up the day. I haven't done anything grid shattering in a long long time. I wonder if attempting to push a Linden into a river counts. I was well behaved at two out of three office hours in general, so maybe not. Plus, it was hard to push or shoot Blue Linden when he's sitting in a chair during the meeting.

I try to keep the serious business to a minimum. That's just not why I come into Second Life. It's an entertainment/socialization platform above all else. Almost all things in SL can be traced to this. 'Owning' land allows you to do fun things and host people without have the public intrude. The 'land' itself, while some say the representation is unnecessary, allows you to have some familiarity to stand one. Just imagine how disoriented you'd be and how steep the learning curve would be if we all just drifted out in some void like space rocks. Banning of ad farms and banks prevents the people from scams and ugliness (or at least the Linden definition) which in theory allows for more useful enterprises.

The problem in Second Life is how everyone defines fun. I've given my definition. Others have theirs. Griefers find enjoyment in crashing the grid and annoying people. Someone might see it as 'how high can I build myself? Can I become a Linden?' Like the game of Life, or Monopoly, in a virtual space. Some sit and chat and chat and dance and dance in clubs, never utilizing any kind of content or programming creation. It gives life to the phrase 'to each their own'. 'Your world, your imagination'. All that and a sack of beans.

Therein lies the problem. When one person's idea of fun is another's idea of not-fun, Second Life drama erupts. The most obvious example would be with griefers, but let's take a different route. Let's say I buy some land and use it as a factory floor, with prim parts and objects scattered about in the process of being completed into something coherent. Next door to me is a couple trying to recreate a real life Cabot Cove style home by the sea shore. I'm ruining their enjoyment of SL, I'm making a mess next door to their serene sunsets. And they ruin my use of Second Life, they complain and nag me where I cannot get any work done. IMs are exchanged and drama starts rolling.

I say this because there was an article on the SL Herald concerning why griefers are so abhorrent on the grid, and this journalist's theory was that they break immersion and snap people back into reality when sometimes they want to escape reality. They're just keepin' it real. But I have to disagree, because I think immersion isn't as deep as the writer would like to believe. Even the most addicted soul in SL acknowledges the two dimensional aspect of it and doesn't get hooked in like the matrix. No, I think it comes from clashing attitudes towards what SL is and the way it is used. Using the above example, I'm using it like AutoCAD or a factory while my neighbors are using it to chat, cyber, and enjoy scenery you can't easily get to in Alberta, Canada or Omaha, Nebraska.

This is really at the root of the problem. On one hand, you do not want a world of Forbidden Cities and red ban lines. In that case, you might as well opensource the grid and allow everyone to just make their own server away from the world. But you don't want complete freedom to go and do anything anywhere, that's just plain anarchy and everyone has a right to privacy. SL's growing pains and griefer troubles are the result of the Lindens and the several SL communities attempting to direct it into their ideal. They are struggling to find a virtual world where they can do whatever it is they are hoping to accomplish.

Sometimes unity is achieved by a shared loathing. Most people hate ad farms and most people were a tad disgusted by age-players. Most people were losing savings to inworld banks. This rallied people against these things. But you have things like camping chairs. Some people benefit from camping, the people who sit in the chair earn cash and the owner earns traffic. But to competitors, traffic draws away attention from their business and to sim owners it draws resources from their home or sandbox. Or look at the brew with the Department of Public Works. Should we build roads and parks or freebies and objects? And where should we put these? There is no clear rally point. Maybe, in the future, a strong position will form in one way or the other. People will rally about it.

Continuing from the original point, it seems most things are agreed due to a mutual hatred, as seen with banks, ad farms, and griefers. While this can be warranted, it is a true shame that we cannot seem to come to positive agreements more often. There is obviously always going to be conflict, but in Second Life we seem to allow debates to develop into skirmishes and wars with some parties being banned completely and drastic measures being taken. Must everything be extremist? I think if Second Life had to hold a Constitutional Convention on a Philadelphia island in a Independence Hall build (there is a Congressional Hall build out there, that would do too), we would never be able to draft a constitution. We would never compromise on any point. For everyone in Second Life, it's all or none. My way, or the highway directly out of here.

Some would agree that drafting a constitution would be dragging reality into what should be a radical new virtuality. Isn't that true of everything? When we create aliens, they're always two arms, two legs, a head with two eyes, a mouth, a nose, and two ears with some make-up to seem 'not human'. When we look for alien species, we look for water. We are always bounded by our limited perceptions in real life, and to be so aloof as to suggest that everyone would be as enthused as to challenge this familiarity is foolish. Such ambition will be better served when the server code is released. If such an idea were implemented, it better be some gimmick because I am not sure people would buy it. Maybe they will prove me wrong. That would be heartening.

And some cannot escape the confines of real life debates. Banks stand as one of the more glaring examples. You need to show LL an actual license and otherwise you cannot charge interest. Casinos and the ban on gambling. Age-play and child pornography. You have people striving to entice real life corporations into Second Life (although I would say the majority are opposed to this). You have arguments over capitalism and socialism. Weren't we supposed to leave all this behind us? Or is it like the visual? We require familiarity not only in the senses but in thought?

Sometimes real life intrudes for reasons beyond our control. Someone tiers down to afford paying the mortgage. A computer dies. They get too busy with work or school or romance and just do not have the time to visit their Second Life friends. Situations change as rapidly as they do in Second Life. There is nothing we can do about this. We can't support or force anyone to stay in Second Life, and those who want or need to leave should be allowed. If someone sits down and decides to leave, they're an adult and I expect that is their rational decision. They shouldn't be cajoled or coerced into coming back. That is a kind of selfishness. It doesn't mean we can't be sad or disappointed, but to campaign and scheme to draw them back is wasted time and effort. And in the event of its success, you have someone resentful, only logging in 'because they HAVE to'.

And sometimes people draw in real life for reasons known but to Nunchuck and themselves. Perhaps that is their hobby, to see which real life institutions can be drawn in. Ben Duranske applies real life law into Second Life, I believe he was one of the more vocal in noting most SL banks as glorified Ponzi schemes. Prokofy is constantly in a waltz with regards to resident government or Linden action or many many other Second Life things. Other people bring in various other realities. As I recall, there have been many attempts at socialism in SL. Governments and market systems, it's all been advocated in SL at one time or another. Politicians set up small campaigns or drop griefer cubes on their opponents' islands and builds. Somehow in someway, real life gets dragged in.

I don't think many people appreciate this. The Lindens are silent. Often, I think the Lindens are not really Overlords, or governance, or friends, or internet admins as much as they're just trying to make everyone happy. I don't think they want much to do with maintaining SL, they want to play around with their creation and goof around with their residents. Let's face it: governing the world is a drag. It sounds great on paper but it's been four long years for the Lindens, and the complaints are getting to them. If you've noticed, most of the recent policies have occurred in the seven months and I believe one of the earliest rulings was against copybot.

Ah, Copybot. Here you can pinpoint the slow descent into tyranny, as Intlibber dubbed it. Copybot is complex. It stole content but was coded somewhat legitimately. Linden Lab had to take a stand, to not act would erode the concept of intellectual property rights that LL so often touts as one of the main selling points of SL. So they found everyone who created one and banned them. Was this necessary? I do not think so. Why take the time to ban each and every incident of Copybot when it would be just as easy to change the code so as to render Copybot unusable? No bannings needed when the problem itself no longer exists. No, instead they decided to nail each on a case-by-case basis, and that only if anyone complained.

Age play was a kind of split. Some were using it for child porn and others simply as something different, as natural as Torley being a watermelon or some newbie being a dinosaur. I like to think many cases were innocent. But the allegations into it were too much and Linden Lab laid down the law. The joke is that the age players, like the Gors and Furries, tend to stay within themselves and so hardly any were reported. They went underground. Probably a moot point in the end as Linden lab forgot its own policy and everything is pretty much as it was. On a side note, one of the lame answers given by the Lab was that it was to protect the children (this was given for age registration as well). Doesn't anyone stop to think why kids are on the grid? Isn't that, I dunno, against the ToS? But I digress.

And that began the descent. But they are really caving to what the populace wants, and the populace wants immediate and visible action, with blog posts and reports on the police blotter! People were frustrated when it seemed like the grid was the Wild West and vigilante justice. Perhaps that is where a lot of the Linden jokes, and Linden cracks, and just a general tone of derision towards them. People got fed up. They felt abandoned.

So they turn and bring in real life to ease it. Admittedly, no one can escape real life law. As long as the servers are in the United States, they will obey US law. If we moved them to Canada, then we'd have to deal with Canadian laws. And someone, I suppose, has to bring some reality into Second Life and remind us of these laws, lest it be shut down while under investigation. A shut down would cripple Second Life and I do not know if it could recover. The economy is already nailed with rolling restarts and those do not even shut down the entire grid! It wouldn't be pleasant for all involved.

People, being people, will never escape their quirks and issues and faults. That is an obvious statement. If you're a self centered jerk, you'll remain one in Second Life. These are the kinds of things that transcend real life and second life. Can this be changed? Most certainly, but it takes a lot of effort that most people do not want to expend and time they do not want to waste. So we have to operate on the assumption they will not change. And where does that leave us? It leaves us with another real life method dragged into SL. It's called burning the bridge. We can only destroy the bridge. This doesn't mean we can't communicate, heaven forbid! But you shouldn't have to deal with them ALL THE TIME if you can't stand the person.

You are probably thinking about situations where you just drift apart, and that is fundamentally different. Interests converge and diverge and cross and separate, these things happen. The key difference between drifting and burning is that when two old friends meet after drifting, it feels like you've never separated at all. Just like old times. Burning is a definite stance, and you're polite but firm. You and the other person will just never work it out, and in the interest of both parties the lie should be dragged behind the barn and shot.

And sometimes this can happen when one person begins to have a different definition of fun. Fun changes. Two friends can have fun building their brains out, and then one decides to start going commercial with their work. Perhaps (all hypothetical) he goes overboard, and suddenly he gets angry when the other wastes time making pineapple launchers and candy cane houses, when the enterprise is in prim furniture. For weeks it will be strained and then they will come to a head. A bridge will be burned. It happens far too often to loads of people in this grid of ours. It happens in real life, but something about Second Life, with its lack of more human gestures and intonations (even voice can mess up what a person is trying to convey) it makes the situation worse as we cannot tell things that come second nature in real life. Is this person being cold and callous or attempting to do you a favor? You cannot tell. You can only hope they give you some clue to their intentions.

I think such things should be made clear from the start. Am I a means to your end, or someone you pal around with when everyone else is away? Tell me straight so I don't built misconceptions around our 'friendship'. Don't lead me along a string. I'm not stupid, and you're not a genius. I am going to catch on.

Perhaps, if the person wanted to make amends, it would help to try to self-examine.
What am I doing wrong? And pay attention to exactly what the other person is saying. Just what are they trying to tell me? I haven't listened before, let's open up now. Or maybe not.

People get too wrapped up into SL business. They need to sit back and meditate for a while. A friend of mine built a pool. She regularly just floats in it. Logs in, and floats. Tried it once. It is kind of mesmerizing, she did pick particularly life like floating poseballs. If only everyone had something similar. Just one day, go out on some Linden Sea in a boat, and just watch the sunset/sunrise in Windlight. It doesn't have to conform to my idea of relaxation, but just something away from the hustle and bustle. Running an event? Stay on schedule but allocate some time off. A half-hour at least.

They say that after four hours of instruction, your brain shuts down and you might as well go and get some rest after that. I am not sure if that applies to working as well, but an average work day is eight hours plus lunch unless you're doctor on call or something along those lines. But is there anything so pressing in SL that requires you to be on call 24-7? I don't think so. There is some truth to the saying "All work and no play makes Ruth a dull girl". Some time should be set aside for goofing around and taking it easy. If you have to, log off and go make some dinner. Prepare something extravagant. It's easy to do.

Just click that little red 'X'.

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